Why Doves Want to Invade

August 23, 1994|By MICHAEL CLOUGH

The debate over U.S. policy toward Haiti is laden with historical irony. Like most liberals who came of age during the Vietnam era, National Security Adviser W. Anthony Lake, Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and most other senior officials in the Clinton administration who favor an invasion were vehement opponents of military intervention. And if the administration does send in the Marines, its harshest critics will include many Republicans who ardently backed the U.S. role in Vietnam.

There is also a contemporary irony. The potentially divisive effects of the exodus of Haitians -- and now Cubans -- on domestic politics are increasingly driving foreign policy, a development that Messrs. Lake and Talbott would surely resist. Yet, the political anxieties have given added weight to their solution -- invasion.

Messrs. Lake and Talbott are both heirs of the Wilsonian tradition of liberal internationalism and grandsons of the generation of ''wise men'' -- such as John J. McCloy, Dean Acheson and W. Averill Harriman -- who guided the United States, in the 1940s, into the uncharted seas of world leadership. But both rebelled against their elders over the Vietnam War: Mr. Lake as a Foreign Service officer serving on the staff of then-national security adviser Henry A. Kissinger, and Mr. Talbott as a student at Yale and Oxford, where he roomed with young Bill Clinton.

In opposing the war, neither Mr. Lake nor Mr. Talbott rejected the idea that the United States had a unique responsibility to lead the world. Quite the contrary. Their opposition flowed from TC belief that Washington was betraying national values and undermining the country's ability to lead when it subverted governments and aided corrupt dictators.

Conservatives, by contrast, were never much interested in questions of morality and global responsibility. They saw military intervention in Vietnam as a legitimate exercise of national sovereignty. For them, the overriding issue was always ''American'' interests and the threat to them posed by communism. They were internationalists out of necessity, not conviction.

It may be unfair, then, to chastise the administration's ''hawk'' converts on Haiti. For Messrs. Lake, Talbott and other neo-Wilsonians, the end of the Cold War frees the United States to return to its task of making the world safe for democracy. Geopolitics no longer forces us to intervene on the ''wrong'' side in Third World struggles. Instead, we can use power to promote change in places like Haiti.

There is also a more subtle dimension to the role reversals. In recent decades, liberals who opposed the Vietnam War were politically mauled by neo-conservatives for their reputed unwillingness to stand up to communism. Mr. Lake and many other administration officials still bear the scars of those political attacks.

The stakes in Haiti are thus doubly high for the administration's liberal internationalists. A failure to stand up to the Haitian thugs would undermine America's ability to promote democracy and reinforce Republican charges that Democrats are not tough enough to conduct an effective foreign policy. But they may be trapped in a no-win situation.

There is a possibility that an invasion could be carried out successfully with a minimum of casualties. But the post-invasion challenge of transforming Haiti into a viable democracy would be immense. At a minimum, it would require a tremendous infusion of assistance.

Even under the best possible circumstances, it is highly doubtful that a U.S. invasion would be popular at home. Americans almost certainly share the conservatives' doubts that U.S. interests are engaged in Haiti. A strong case could be made that taxpayer dollars would be squandered to appease the Congressional Black Caucus and protect the administration's political interests in Florida.

If an invasion proved difficult and costly, and if American lives were lost, the consequences could be calamitous. The perception that Bill Clinton and Mr. Talbott, who sat out the Vietnam War at Yale and Oxford, were putting the lives of U.S. soldiers at risk for dubious reasons would be political dynamite certain to be detonated by Republicans.

The administration would thus be wise to step back from the brink. Mr. Clinton should convert the crisis in Haiti into an opportunity to level with the American people and begin to develop policies that will allow us to end the self-defeating battle between liberal internationalism and conservative nationalism.

A first step would be to outline why U.S. military intervention is a flawed strategy. The president could cite the legacy of past interventions, almost all of which failed to produce either democracy or economic development. He could also applaud the wisdom of American skepticism toward international crusades.

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